friendship

Guess who’s coming to dinner or the national themed invitation

208_betty_don_dinner_party

From time to time a generous and well meaning friend will text to invite me to an “Italian dinner”, an “Italian drink” or  – even worse – an Italian blind (play)date. It’s happened dozens of time and the subtitle always is “I met an/some Italians at the gym/work/ salon/playground/school/hospital/cooking class/ and I thought you really ought to know each other”.

Sharing one’s mother tongue and having watched the same TV during the formative years produces good material for conversation but I have seen too many times embarrassed same-nationality guests asking each other with their expat metallic accent where city they come from, half bored, half stressed out.

The smiling host(ess) tiptoes around, careful not to interrupt the pleasant melody coming from his/her new friends and proud to assist to a home replica of the sex scenes in A Fish Called Wanda. (for those who’ve watched the film, it’s good to know that the Italian dubbing replaced the Italian words with Russian ones. Kevin Kline basically shouts “Vodka, Matrioska” and the likes while in bed with Jamie Lee Curtis).

I have met some nice people through these set-ups but the longer I live as an expat, the less excited I become at the prospect of spending yet another evening in an arranged ghetto.

Before cutting the cord it was comforting. The first people I met as a young expat went great lengths to make me feel at home, introducing me to the local Italian community where I could always turn to if I was feeling lonely, sick or depressed. Time has passed, though and I don’t associate anymore comfort with talking to strangers in my mother tongue.

And there’s something else. Long time expats become a little territorial regarding their status. Deep down, they like to think they are the sole representatives of their home country abroad, the unique product of an exotic culture. Once they are forced together in the same room with another dozen of fellow nationals, they (think they) lose all their charms.

A romantic poet wrote once that he loved foreign women because the language filter added an invaluable veil of mystery to the conversation and one could never completely understand all the nuances of the other’s personality.

Listening to someone who speaks your mother tongue means that there are no more filters. A few phrases, the intonation of some words, the pronunciation of vowels and you have an x-Ray scan: you can tell with a certain accuracy where that person grew up, what kind of school he/she went to and whether you share cultural references. In a few words, you can put someone in a box. The advantage is that you can understand fairly quickly if you like him/her or not.

Have you ever been invited to a national themed dinner? Have you ever organized something to introduce same nationality friends? Do you have a group of fellow nationals you meet on a regular basis just because you come from the same place?

 

 

Some go, some stay: summer thoughts on friendship

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

For those living abroad, summer comes with high expectations and mixed feelings. Holidaying home is a trip down Memory Lane, a well deserved resting bubble and the perfect time to catch up with old friends. Sometimes, though, that comes with the unpleasant realisation that friendship, as love, can’t always stay afloat despite time, distance and life itself. Shared memories can take a relationship only so far. At some point, they start to fade and you need to infuse new life, new moments spent together, future commitments to see each other to take the whole thing to the next stage.

(Photo: public domain)

(Photo: public domain)

I lost many of my youth friends on the way. They still sit among my sleeping Facebook contacts, those whose name is solidly present on the list without having properly interacted in the past decade. We see each other’s posts and recent pictures. We sometimes struggle to recognize that boy/girl we had so much fun with between thinning hairlines and new wrinkles. We think we’ll write a message, just to catch up. Then we never do it because there’s another life happening. Now.

I don’t know if it’s a women’s prerogative but we can’t seem to keep our friends for a lifetime. Men tend to hang out forever with their primary school classmates and rarely form deep, profound friendship after a certain age. Women’s friendship is a different world: new friends keep coming into a woman’s life till her last breath and naturally some get lost on the way.

Women give generously to their friends, they discuss everything: from mundane occupations to the most heartbreaking moments in life. They nurture friendship as a form of love. As love, it’s not always time-proof.

Someone told me once that marrying a foreigner is a statement. It means telling the world you weren’t so comfortable, after all, with those people you grew up with. It might be true, in a certain way, for mixed couples tend to have the best time together while they often struggle with same-nationality partners. What’s certain is that the only “old friends” I kept so far are those living abroad, or married to a foreigner. We don’t need many words or long written catch-ups. A message here and there will do it. We know how our lives are.

As someone who grows attached to everybody and can’t imagine to change hairdresser or doctor, I can’t but feel sorry for the others, every time I am reminded of how much time has passed since we drank lemonades together on the beach, dreaming of our future. But I am learning the 30s lesson here: you have to let go of the past. Some friends go, some stay, some will eventually come back, at a different stage of life and some new will come to cheer you up.

You can’t make everyone happy and at some point you might have to cut branches, in order to become who you are. Yet, I still have to deal with the random nostalgia.

Have you been able to nurture old friendships while living abroad? How?I’d love to hear your stories.